Small steps, 2, 3, 4, toward peace, 2, 3, 4

The Philadelphia InquirerJuly 4, 2014 

Every week, on couches across the nation, Americans argue the finer points of a silky-smooth waltz, the sharp hooks of an Argentine tango, the flicks of the jive. Ballroom dance is enjoying a popularity unseen for decades, thanks to TV’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

But pair an elementary-school-age boy and girl, and ickiness and peer pressure intervene.

Pierre Dulaine knows that. The four-time ballroom-dancing world champion (with Yvonne Marceau) began teaching social dance to schoolchildren in 1994 through his Dancing Classrooms program.

His work was heralded in the delightful 2005 movie “Mad Hot Ballroom,” which showed children in poor and privileged New York neighborhoods go from reluctance to competition in 10 weeks. His story was also fictionalized in 2006’s “Take the Lead,” starring Antonio Banderas.

But Dulaine didn’t know reluctance until he went to Israel to fulfill a lifelong dream: to get Jewish and Muslim children to dance together. That journey is documented — in English, Arabic, and Hebrew — in “Dancing in Jaffa.”

Born in Jaffa to a Palestinian mother and an Irish father, Dulaine left when he was 4 and had not been back. When he gets there, he wants to visit his childhood home, but its owner is so wary as to be threatening.

Dance, Dulaine thinks, is the way to learn to trust in Israel.

In the film, he tells a group of Jewish parents and teachers, “You’re not going to go away. The Palestinian people are not going to go away. So this is how we make it better.”

The first step is to get children to dance with their classmates, and that’s hard enough.

But “Dancing in Jaffa” is so wrapped up in political and logistical red tape it loses the charm and drama of “Mad Hot Ballroom.” We barely get to know the children or see much of their dancing. By the time the winner of the competition is announced, it is not much of a surprise, and there is little emotional payout.

Dancing in Jaffa

H H H 1/2 I

Cast: Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau

Director: Hilla Medalia

Running time: 1:29

Rated: Not rated.

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